Friday, June 24, 2016

Broke It

Brexit washes over today's news like a tidal wave.  The UK referendum vote to exit the European Union has already led to Prime Minister Cameron resigning (effective at a date to be determined) and may well lead to early elections.  It has thrown the UK political parties into chaos, and more than one leader may fall. Scotland is now likely to vote for independence in the hopes that it can rejoin the European Union (that country voted heavily to remain), and the politics of Northern Ireland and the non-UK Republic of Ireland also got more complicated.

If the UK is in shock at the outcome, the US is stumbling from not having paid much attention to the vote, especially with the likelihood--including election day polls--that the status quo would be maintained.  Today the US stock market tumbled along with other financial markets around the world, the British pound fell into a hole it isn't likely to climb out of for awhile.

All this over something that hasn't happened yet, and may not for a couple of years. British Parliament has to have a vote on enabling legislation, and there's a negotiation of terms process that involves all 27 EU countries.  Right now the EU leadership is pissed off and says it wants a quick divorce, but nobody actually knows whether this spins forward out of control, or as the reality sinks it, the process slows and disappears from the headlines.  There's even the possibility that the final agreement in a couple of years will be put up for another referendum.

The stated issues are loss of some control to the central EU bureaucracy, the costs paid to the EU, and immigration.  Though there seems a racist element to the anti-immigration argument, it's probably more complicated.  The only immigration the EU mandates is from other EU member countries, which basically means Poland.  Racially GB is still 87% white, but "white" means different things to different people.  The fear of possible future refugees from Syria was exploited.

More worrisome to anyone who knows a little about 20th century history is a possible reversal of the trend of European unification.  Two world wars started with a lot of separate small states and competing alliances in Europe, after centuries of earlier if less globally devastating wars the same way.  The vote has energized and may embolden right wing groups in other EU countries that advocate exit and ultimately dissolution.

The power elites and the global 10% do bear a lot of responsibility for ignoring the plight of the 90%, particularly due to EU (and UK) austerity after the Great Recession.  They are the ones who will be hurt first by Brexit--from London banks to the British film industry.  But of course the price will ultimately be paid by the employees and the economy as a whole, as it always is.  If they are smart, they will respond, and quickly.  Though countering a wave is a lot more difficult.

The Brexit vote wave was inundating the world when Donald Trump showed up in Scotland to open his golf course, which is already apparently underwater (in the financial sense) and has pissed off a lot of Scots.  Though he was described as pretty clueless about the significance of the vote, he predictably made common cause with it.  People are angry, he said.

But the real question that Brexit raises is are they apocalyptically angry.  UK leaders were confident that Brexit wouldn't pass because they had so graphically described the catastrophic economic consequences, including a steep drop in average income.  People would be sensible, especially British people.

But they didn't listen, leading to the sense--or the fear--that this anger is so strong that a large enough segment of the electorate is willing to burn the house down.  So apart from his white separatist base, Trump is counting on millions of votes from people who not only don't care that he is clueless, crude and infantile--they like it, because it means he's not one of the experienced professional officeholders they despise.  Better an entertaining egomaniac buffoon than the hated establishment.

Hillary may be well ahead in the polls, but the polls in the UK suggest that a lot of people told pollsters they were voting to remain, when in fact they voted to leave. Pollsters are also part of the despised system.  (And the polls are much closer in some swing states anyway.)

There's a limit to the numbers that white racists can access in the US in a presidential election, and the guy who threw golf balls onto Trump's course that were etched with swastikas indicates that a lot of people know what's at stake.  But there may be this contagion.

 Only time will tell if, in any sense, the Brexit vote was the bullet that got an obscure archduke, or an indicator of a desperation that invites apocalypse.  If so, it will not yield to logical analysis.  There will be reasons but not reason enough.  It will have gone beyond that, an eruption from a collective unconscious that sows anarchy at precisely the time that civilization needs systems of cooperation and responsive institutions on a global scale.

Update: Two late stories of interest: Tim Teeman in Daily Beast suggests GB is undergoing a certain buyer's remorse already over Brexit, including some of the leaders who promoted it:  "On Friday morning, the so-called respectable figures of the Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, looked as shocked and ashen as those who wanted to remain in the EU. If there is triumphalism it is of the most funereal sort. Britain is split down the middle, and all Johnson really wants to do is play politics, pitching at his first press conference to be Prime Minister."

And a Washington Post story says that Britons have been "frantically Googling what the EU is" hours after they voted to leave it.  NPR, the Atlantic and other outlets jumped on the same phenomenon.

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